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A Female Hero and Male Antiheroes: An Investigation of the Tragic Hero and Gender Roles in Euripides’ "Medea" According to Aristotle’s "Poetics"


Aristotle’s definition of the tragic hero in his Poetics indicates a contradiction in one of the great heroes of Greek tragedy; one to which he refers several times in treatise on dramatic theory: Euripides’ Medea. The Euripidean Medea centers upon a female hero that is good not inherently, but by speech and action (see Aristotle 53; 15.1). Medea also demonstrates, however, a “manly valor” and “unscrupulous cleverness” that Aristotle deems “inappropriate” in women (53; 15.2). Furthermore, the tragedy includes examples of males that do not exhibit heroic traits, which serve to underline Medea’s unique nature. Medea’s self-contradictory disposition also counters the strict categorization—specifically of genders and tragic heroes—embraced in ancient Greek culture in general and, specifically, in Aristotle’s poetic theory. Medea’s transcendence of such categories may explain why the author of the Poetics does not cite the Euripidean heroine—whose creator he deems “faulty […] in the general management of his subject” (Aristotle 47; 13.6)—as an example of the ideal tragic hero, even though she fulfills almost all of the Aristotelian requirements.

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